Substance Abuse Council under fire

2014-03-29T17:00:00Z 2014-03-30T22:05:30Z Substance Abuse Council under fireBob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com

VALPARAISO | After 25 years of helping to coordinate and fund the local battle against the use of illegal drugs, the Porter County Substance Abuse Council is coming under fire by judges who hold the purse strings.

At stake is more than $100,000 the council awards each year to various government and non-government entities combating substance abuse from the fronts of justice, prevention/education, treatment/intervention and random drug testing.

The money comes from fees ordered by the judges when someone is convicted of drunk driving or drug offenses. Money collected is forwarded to the council, which is charged by the state with disseminating the funds to applicants.

Yet the amount ordered by the judges has been on an overall decline, hitting $127,122 last year, which is down from $192,030 a few years earlier, Council Director Beatrice Owen said.

The amount distributed this year was up to about $188,700, but the collection rate for 2014 is already behind that amount, she said.

Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford confirmed the decline is intentional.

"We would like to have a little more impact into the distribution of funding," he said.

Bradford said he would like to see more of the money going to county government efforts such as the GED program at the jail and the Antabuse anti-alcohol effort.

The council awarded the Antabuse program $15,000 this year, which was topped in the justice category only by the $16,077 awarded to county prosecutor for drug and alcohol testing.

Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper, who was to meet last week with Owen, is concerned about what she sees as a lack of transparency surrounding the Substance Abuse Council.

Owen, who inherited the tense relationship with the judges when she took over as director in June 2012, said the council hosts regular public meetings, is upfront about money collected and how it is distributed, and presents that information each year to the Porter County Council and Board of Commissioners.

While some of the concern about transparency may be coming from the council's hesitation to provide the judges with 100 percent of the details of a recent federal grant application that netted $125,000 for up to each of the next 10 years, Owen said the group released what it could.

"It's a very highly competitive process," she said. "For us, who's going to see this?"

Harper said she also believes the council is not collaborating enough with other local groups combating substance abuse.

Owen said she does not understand this accusation either, considering she has met with the leadership of the newly-created Empower Porter County, in addition to creating a newsletter shared with the other groups, schools and anyone showing interest.

The Substance Abuse Council also teamed up with other groups in December as a secondary sponsor to an event on childhood drug abuse.

"Do we all need to work together?" Owen asked. "You bet we all need to work together."

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